9 August 2015 | TheLittleSongbird
Had its faults, but deserved a fairer chance
The original Law and Order series will always be the best of the franchise. Criminal Intent is also great, and despite having an initial negative view of Special Victims Unit I now like it much more. Trial By Jury is not as good, and while it did start off weak and had its faults it was getting better and deserved a fairer chance than it got (the original Law and Series started off slow too, only really coming to life when Lennie Briscoe arrived, and it's become one of the longest-running series and for good reason).
Some have said about Trial by Jury having too many characters, and I don't disagree, some are not really developed all that well (Scott Cohen's character is particularly flat, and you could tell it was last-minute replacement) and at first it was not always easy telling who was who. The first few episodes are on the slow side, due to getting used to the format and trying to keep up with the amount of characters and who they were. Some of the stories are predictable with most of the episodes having the same outcome and some like re-treads of episodes from the other Law and Order shows. The Baby Boom episode tried to do something different but Patel's behaviour made it obvious how it was going to end regardless of the verdict, also didn't like how badly overplayed and emotionally manipulative Kibre's closing statement was in that episode either. Some are also one-sided with the defence often being weakly written to the point of improbability, sure the defence team in real-life trials and in the other Law and Order shows also suffered from a weak case that can be easily argued against but not to this extent, and hurt further when they are shown asking very questionable questions or coaching their clients.
However, as with all the Law and Order series, Trial by Jury is visually well-made, New York as always looks great and it's stylishly filmed. All episodes are hauntingly scored, and the theme tune is one of the catchiest of the Law and Order franchise as well as being the most refreshing. There is a lot of intelligent, thought-provoking writing as well especially in the later episodes, with the crossovers (particularly Day) and The Line episodes generating a lot of tension. The stories once the show hit its stride became brisker paced and more engrossing, with more suspense in the courtroom scenes. And they a vast majority of the time made the most of the interesting concept, it was really refreshing to see much more of the order and developing cases stuff, more so than the rest of the franchise, rather than half-and-half (Law and Order, Special Victims Unit) or almost entirely on the law and policing (Criminal Intent). Day, Skeleton and The Line had some particularly well-written stories, and Boys Will Be Boys had some nice moments before concluding predictably. Credit is also due for raising some sensitive issues in a way that is presented not too over-the-top.
It's very well-acted too. Bebe Neuwirth won't be for all tastes, in a role that is pretty atypical for her, but while it took a little time to warm to her and her terseness she does a great job overall and brought intensity and gravitas. Amy Carlson is a pleasantly warm contrast, and there is a great dynamic between her and Neuwirth. Kirk Acevedo is nicely sincere but steely too, while Jerry Orbach is by far the best thing and the heart of the first two episodes, bringing authority, sympathetic air and heart-breaking poignancy to especially the second episode (he succumbed to prostate cancer shortly after). Orbach in fact brought so much to this show and to Law and Order in general that the lack of a send-off felt insulting. It was great seeing Jesse L. Martin, S. Epatha Merkeson, Denis Farina, Mariska Hargitay and Chris Meloni as well, and they brought the same amount of quality that they did to their respective shows. The secondary cast are notable too, with real standouts being Alfred Molina and Angela Lansbury in the second crossover, bringing much more than just star power to their characters. Two casting choices didn't seem quite right though, Scott Cohen is not helped by his character being written flatly but Cohen never seemed comfortable or generated any spark, while Fred Dalton Thompson has very little to do in all of his appearances and is unable to do anything with Arthur Branch the same way he did before so he comes over as one-note.
All in all, a bit of a bumpy ride but a decent show that deserved a fairer chance, uneven but undeservedly short-lived. 6.5/10 Bethany Cox